Commissioners delay septic system fee decision

They approve changes to other charges

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian health reporter

Published:

Updated: August 24, 2011, 6:09 PM

 

The Clark County commissioners postponed making a decision on whether to replace county septic system inspection and tipping fees with a flat fee for all landowners with septic systems.

The commissioners, in their role as the board of health, did unanimously approve changes to dozens of other environmental public health fees during their meeting Wednesday morning. However, commissioners said they wanted more time and more discussion before making a decision on the maintenance and operation fees.

“I don’t want to keep putting off all the work the health department has done (on the other fees),” Commissioner Tom Mielke said.

The approved changes to other environmental public health fees reduced some fees while increasing others. The changes will reduce revenue from liquid waste and food safety fees and increase revenue from drinking water safety, recreational water safety and solid waste fees.

The reason for the changes was to make the fees better reflect the actual cost of providing the service so that one fee doesn’t subsidize another.

The commissioners considered two proposals with drastic differences regarding septic operation and maintenance fees.

• One would eliminate the county inspection and tipping fees and impose a $21 flat fee onto property taxes of the 34,000 Clark County residents with septic systems.

• The other proposal would increase the county’s tipping fee from 6 cents per gallon pumped to 11 cents per gallon and increase the reporting fee from $20 to $28.

Neither proposal, like the current fee structure, would cover the cost of the actual inspection or tipping. Septic system owners would still be responsible for paying those costs to the company hired to perform the work.

Revenue from septic fees are used to operate the county’s operation and maintenance program. In addition to supporting the annual inspections, the program offers advice and guidance to residents who need to repair their systems.

A handful of residents attended the meeting Wednesday and spoke during the public hearing. Most who testified were opposed to a flat $21 fee.

Vancouver resident Orville Adams opposed adding any fees to property taxes and feared it would prompt other departments to add fees to tax rolls. Adams also claimed the proposal to implement a flat fee was designed to be a revenue-maker for the county.

Health department calculations show the flat fee would increase revenue by $194,458, of which $9,791 would be used for the billing service. The proposal to increase the inspection and tipping fees would bring in an additional $184,667.

Health officials said the flat fee would cost homeowners less, on average, than the original proposal because it spreads the cost to all landowners.

Battle Ground resident Richard Rylander voiced concern with the county’s voluntary compliance system for inspections and tipping. State law requires the inspections so the county should develop a new procedure to make sure residents are following the law, he said.

Mark Cullier, a septic designer, said the flat fee proposal seemed the most equitable and simplifies the process.

“This may not be a perfect way, but it’ll be a step toward fairness,” he said.

The board of health will discuss the maintenance and operation fees again at its meeting Sept. 28.

Marissa Harshman: http://twitter.com/col_health; http://facebook.com/reporterharshman; marissa.harshman@columbian.com; 360-735-4546.